Star Trek TOS "The Squire of Gothos":

TRELANE: I can't tell you how delighted I am to have visitors from the very planet that I've made my hobby. Yes, but according to my observations, I didn't think you capable of such voyages.

JAEGER: Notice the period, Captain. Nine hundred light years from Earth. It's what might be seen through a viewing scope if it were powerful enough.

TRELANE: Ah, yes. I've been looking in on the doings on your lively little Earth.

KIRK: Then you've been looking in on the doings nine hundred years past.

TRELANE: Oh, really? Have I made an error in time? How fallible of me. Oh, I did so want to make you feel at home. I'm quite proud of the detail.

KIRK: General Trelane.

So from the episode it clearly states that he's seeing things 900 years in the past, which is his present because he's 900 light years from earth. He also states that he's been observing in his present time earth and that he's surprised that a relatively primitive culture technologically speaking to make such a far away space journey.

Star Trek TOS "The Squire of Gothos":

TRELANE: DeSalle, did you say? Un vrai Francais?

DESALLE: My ancestry is French, yes.

TRELANE: Ah, monsieur. Vive la gloire. Vive Napoleon. You know, I admire your Napoleon very much.

KIRK: This is Mister DeSalle, our navigator. Doctor McCoy, our medical officer. Mister Sulu, our helmsman, and Carl Jaeger, meteorologist.

He states that he admires Napoleon (1769-1821).

TRELANE: Are you challenging me to a duel?

KIRK: If you have the courage.

TRELANE: Oh, this is better than I'd planned. I shall not shirk an affair of honour.

(He gets a box from the mantle-shelf. It contains a pair of duelling pistols)

TRELANE: A matched set. Just like the pair that slew your heroic Alexander Hamilton. And Captain, I never miss.

Dueling pistols were mainly from late 1700's or early-mid 1800's. Alexander Hamilton 1755-1804.

The events in this episode take place in 2267, so 900 years earlier would have been 1367.

At the beginning of the episode it was clear, at least to me, that Trelane was observing earth 900 years in the past. This is evidenced by Jaeger and Kirk's statements in the first quote.

Trelane makes reference to Napoleon who at most is only 600 years earlier. Dueling pistols are from the same time period. Alexander Hamilton again is from the same time period.

From the garb, decorations, dance, and music in Trelane's room it represented more of an 18th century decora then a 14th century.

I was confused by this. Is Trelane able to see any time period and only chooses this one? Is Trelane able to see any time period and likes this one (which would contradict what Kirk said in the first quote about 900 years), is it a writer's error/plot hole? Is there some other explanation?

  • 2
    Perhaps he watched the Historical Documents like Mathesar and the Thermians? Aug 16, 2015 at 6:32
  • Just a quick prod that you haven't accepted any of the answers below. Is there anything else you think should be addressed before considering an acceptance?
    – Valorum
    Jul 2, 2016 at 17:14
  • The notion that TOS took place in the 23rd century was not screen established until star trek II and even the convention to add 300 to the episode air date, which was simple and good enough, is a product of the next generation era. So you are judging episodes by a dating convention that didn't even begin to form until 20 years later. Mar 27, 2021 at 5:22
  • IIRC, the first movie started with the onscreen caption "In the 23rd Century." But other than that I agree. They hadn't decided on a specific date for the setting, just several hundred years into the future. The original point of Star Dates was to avoid specifying a precise date.
    – Pete
    Mar 27, 2021 at 17:32

6 Answers 6


Leonard Nimoy spoke to this issue in an intro to the Sci-Fi Channel Special Edition showing of 'The Squire of Gothos', referring to it as an "Interesting continuity mistake". No further explanation is offered other than that it was a goof, along with a number of others that occurred in the early seasons.

"There's an interesting continuity mistake in this episode. Trelane states that he's been studying the Earth of nine centuries ago, but he describes events that took place in the early 18th Century. That would place Star Trek in the 27th Century, not in the 23rd where it belongs. One of the reasons for this is that this early point in the series, that the Star Trek universe was not clearly defined. References were constantly changing ... later in the series things would settle into the pattern that we have come to know"

  • 2
    Out of Universe, this makes much more sense than speculating about redefining the Light Year, or the physics of observing at that distance - it's the continuity of events within the show that were frequently overlooked. So rather than looking back at the 14th Century, we've accidentally slipped forward to the 27th.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 16, 2015 at 17:25
  • 1
    +1 I don't know how you find all this stuff, you're a walking scifi encyclopedia. The actor who portrayed Trelane stated "The show was so well written, and it was 'the show'" - So true. Watching this video makes me miss Nimoy... Spock comes through again.
    – JMFB
    Aug 16, 2015 at 17:54
  • @JMFB - The trick is, whenever I'm watching something new and I see something that answers a question, I make a mental note to come back later.
    – Valorum
    Aug 16, 2015 at 18:08

Summary: It seems to just be a plot hole

Below I provide a couple of theories and the background to this situation, but really it just seems to be a plot hole!

Memory Alpha describes Trelane in the following way:

Trelane, referring to himself as a retired general and being willing to accept the title "Squire," wore a blue tailcoat over a white frilled shirt and green riding pants with black boots. These clothes, along with his foppish mannerisms, were intended to suggest what he believed conditions on Earth to be at the time. In fact, he was viewing an image of Earth approximately four and a half centuries out of date, perhaps a consequence of the fact he was over nine hundred light years away.

A couple of pertinent quotes from the script confirm this figure of 900 light years:

KIRK: Sunlight, palm trees. We're nine hundred light years from that kind of desert, Bones.


JAEGER: Notice the period, Captain. Nine hundred light years from Earth. It's what might be seen through a viewing scope if it were powerful enough.


Now, to you and me, 900 light years means that Trelane would have been observing Earth from 900 years ago, as the OP points out, approximately the year 1367.

One in-universe theory I propose is that Trelane had contact with other space-faring races 400-450 years ago who had taken an interest in Earth for some reason. He then based his lifestyle on that. The problem with this theory is that there is no evidence to support it and, if he had indeed had contact with space-faring races with information about Earth, why did the fire emit no heat and the food have no taste?

Another explanation for this is that our understanding of 'light year' is different to the 23rd Century Federation's understanding of it.

Consider the following excerpt from Memory Alpha:

One light year (abbreviated ly) was a unit of measurement used for establishing distance from one location to another in space. The length of this unit was standardized by the UFP Standards Measurement Bureau. Other spacefaring species, such as the Sheliak, had their own unit of distance. (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"; TNG: "The Ensigns of Command")

That page makes no reference to what actually constitutes a light year, other than the background information which informs us of what we consider to the a light year i.e. the distance light travels in one Earth year. It is highly possible that the UFP Standards Measurement Bureau have modified the definition of a light year to something that is not Earth-based.

Memory Beta indicates it is still based on an Earth year, but has no citation for this so we have no basis for judging its merit.

Yet, this question indicates that a light year, by the 24th century at least, was still the same as our understanding of it.

So, unless Kirk and Jaeger were referring to 'light year' as a different measurement (that is, 'light year' took on a different measurement in the 23rd century for some reason), this is just a plot hole!

  • 1
    As mentioned in the original question, Kirk specifically says to Trelane that "you've been looking in on the doings nine hundred years past", so I think that rules out any attempt to solve this plot hole by imagining that the definition of "light year" had changed, or that he was observing using some signal that moved faster than light.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 27, 2016 at 20:59
  • I like the different measure of a year idea. The stardate isn't based on an earth year, so it follows that maybe the "900 years" is related to the stardate somehow? Of course I believe Nimoy's statement to be perfectly accurate about the evolving timeline at that point in the show, but it's still fun to try to make it fit. I think the stardate takes care of it very neatly. Jun 9, 2017 at 10:19

Given Trelane's abilities, I think it more likely that he was from the 27th century! Or, more accurately, he had been viewing Earth from Gothos in the 27th century. But, like most little boys, he had trouble...telling time.

Ergo, he had no idea he had materialized four hundred years earlier when he shanghaied Kirk's Enterprise.

  • Is this all unsupported speculation or do you have any evidence for this theory that you could edit in?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Sep 24, 2019 at 13:30

This may be stretching things a bit. But, I have always that that the following was how it might be explained. Net, at the time the Enteprise was visiting Gothos, it was indeed 900 light years away from Earth in a "star desert". However, at the time Trelane was observing Earth, he was much closer. In fact, close enough that he saw Earth as it was during Napoleanic time.

This could happen because we know Trelane could move his planet as he chose. I.e. he "chased" the Enterprise when it was trying to leave. At the time Trelane was observing Napolean, he had his planet (playhouse?) about 400-500 light years from Earth. Viewing Napolean, that corresponds to TOS being set in the 23rd century. However, Trelane later moved his planet farther away from Earth (perhpas because his parents told him he had to stay closer to home? :-) ) which was where the Enterprise found it.

Too account for the statement When Jaeger observes

"JAEGER: Notice the period, Captain. Nine hundred light years from Earth. It's what might be seen through a viewing scope if it were powerful enough. "

Notice Jeager says "might". In this case, he doesn't actually mean it as exactly 900 years ago for the period. Just that he has a sudden realization that Trelane is viewing "the past" because he is observing Earth from a distance. I.e. in this case even though they are 900 light years from Earth, what is more important than the 900 years is that Jaeger is the first one to explain WHY Trelane's observations are off.


Why the discrepancy (in-universe)? Maybe Trelane just happened to be seeing Earth through a wormhole that bypassed 300 light-years or so.

  • 1
    Although it's not impossible that that's what happened, can you offer any evidence?
    – Valorum
    May 17, 2016 at 14:33

I believe that Kirk and Jaeger were wrong, that Trelane was not observing Earth though the equivalent of a super telescope.

With a telescope of some kind Trelane could only see the side of Earth that was pointed toward Gothos, and only some of that might be illuminated by the sun. And Earth would only be illuminated by the sun when it was on the far side of the sun as seen from Gothos. Whenever earth was on the near side of the sun as seen from Gothos most of Earth would be the night side.

Also events near the edge of Earth as seen from Gothos would be seen from the side like we normally see them, but it might be hard to get a good view of what Trelane was interested in because it would be obstructed by other stuff in front of it. Trelane would have an unobstructed view of events in the center of Earth's disc as seen from Gothos, but that would be a view from above.

And how can one learn to speak and pronounce Earth languages by watching Earth through a super telescope?

And there might be a scientific limit to how detailed an image of an object nine hundred light years away can be.

I believe that Trelance had access to a lot of information about Earth and Earth history. But Trelane was only interested in watching old time battles when war was a colorful spectacle and didn't bother to learn anything about the 20th century or later eras when war was drab and colorless.

I myself have often thought that war should have been abolished about 1900 now that it was no longer spectacular, since after all being spectacular was just about the only thing good about pre-1900 war anyway. Once war because drab, there was absolutely no slightest remaining justification for it.

Thus trelane's ideas about earth were hundreds of years out of date, though far less than the 900 years that Kirk and Jaeger speculated.

  • If his telescope was powerful enough he need merely wait until someone is reading a book outdoors and he could see the contents
    – Valorum
    May 17, 2016 at 14:35
  • Valorum - so you think Trelane's super telescope could make an image of the entire Earth so that Trelane could see what everyone was doing, and so detailed that he could read books? That would be a super image. And if not, how could Trelane know where to point the telescope to spot someone reading outdoors. Of course Trelane could have the long range sensors that spotted Spock on Romulus, or the Argus Array subspace telescope, but how could he know where to look to find something specific? Jan 16, 2018 at 17:11
  • A) Because he has god-like powers that defy rational explanation and B) Because it's a TV show. Also C) Because the people making it had no idea it would ever be repeated, let alone picked apart by fans.
    – Valorum
    Jan 16, 2018 at 17:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.